Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Focus on soft fruit


The soils and climate around Tayside and Angus are perfect for growing a wide range of soft fruit.
We have specialised in raspberry and strawberry growing for local and national markets for generations and now blackcurrants, brambles and blueberries are grown on a large scale.
The James Hutton Institute, previously known as the Scottish Crops Research Institute has been studying soft fruit for a long time. Initially the emphasis was on commercial growing methods, pest and disease control and breeding new varieties suited to our location. Research now continues on a global scale and includes potatoes, and cereals and research into improving the health benefits of edible plants, integrated pest and disease management rather than total control with chemicals as in the past, and working with the environment especially with weather pattern changes brought on by global warming. Scientists from all over the world come to Dundee to carry out research.
Research will always require a commercial application to attract funding, so new varieties and growing techniques are aimed at growers and farmers, but there is usually a spin off for the amateur gardener who likes to keep up to date. Unfortunately, however for the amateur gardener, most of the new varieties of soft fruit are bred to be successful under polythene tunnels as this type of production is demanded of the growers from their main clients, the supermarkets. Be aware of this when trying out new varieties that you wish to grow in the open without protection, as they may be a bit prone to botrytis, especially if we are in for a spell of wet summers.
The Scottish diet gets a fairly bad press, but we now have knowledge of all the best foods we should be eating, and as healthy living becomes more fashionable and demand for allotment grows maybe in time we can reverse this reputation.
Modern soft fruit is now being bred for flavour, scent, and increased antioxidant values as well as resistance to the major pests and diseases.
New blackcurrant varieties are being bred for a high vitamin C content.
Now I wonder if it is possible to retain these healthy attributes in a blackcurrant fruit wine.
That way I can still enjoy a wee tipple in the knowledge that it really is doing me good.


Elsanta is still hard to beat for a mid season strawberry, but Honeoye is earlier. Mae is even earlier still and if you put a low polythene tunnel over them in mid March you will gain another fortnight.
I continue with the late varieties of Symphony and Florence. The fruit is large, firm with a great flavour, but Florence can be a bit too dark in colour.


Glen Ample is one of the best main crop varieties, but can suffer from phytophthora root rot which is now becoming a real menace. Autumn Bliss will fruit from mid summer till the frosts. It has large fruit of an excellent flavour and is resistant to root rots. Work is continuing at James Hutton Institute to breed new raspberry varieties with sufficient vigour to resist phytophthora root rots.

Blackcurrants and Gooseberries

Ben Conan is my favourite, though Ben Lomond is very popular. Both have large fruit with excellent flavour, produce heavy yields and are very high in vitamin C.
Ben Conan does not grow too tall, so is very suited to gardens and allotments with limited space.
Big Ben is said to have huge berries, but I have not tried it yet.
Research work continues at Invergowrie into producing a red and a yellow gooseberry with resistance to mildew and also with thornless stems to ease picking.


Helen is very early bramble. The fruit a great flavour with very small seeds so is suitable for jam as well as eating fresh. I tried Loch Ness but found it suffered a lot of botrytis in our wet summers, though commercially under tunnels it is one of the best.


Bluecrop is very popular with large fruit, but they will still need netting from birds and will only grow in an acid soil.

Saskatoons and Chokeberries

Both still at the novelty stage, but very easy to grow with heavy crops of black fruits very high in anti-oxidants. Aronia Viking is the most popular variety of Chokeberry.
Saskatoons crop in July and can be eaten fresh, added to yoghurts, baked for pies, scones, oaties, sauces, jam and compot and makes a delicious wine if there is any spare.
Chokeberry is used in a similar way except that it is a wee bit too astringent for eating fresh, but its high vitamin C content makes it a must have for the health conscious gardeners.


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Summer in the Garden


There is always an opportunity to do a bit of gardening in between thunder storms. The weather continues to keep us on our toes. We got the expected three days really hot weather at the beginning of July, (the Scottish summer), but let’s hope there is still a few more warm days left.
The extreme weather has caught out a lot of crops, but others have responded very positively. I have a very heavy crop of apples, blackcurrants, saskatoons and strawberries, but precious little plums and pears which were shredded by the gales. My figs are down to about a dozen, (last year I had over forty), and every time I check on my peach tree there are further fruit losses. Last week we were down to the last two peaches, one for each of us, then, on checking after the thunderstorms, I noticed that Anna’s had fallen off!!!
However we have no problem with drought, and now there is a bit of warmth in the sun, a lot of plants are beginning to put on a bit more growth.
Checking last year’s diary, we seem to be running at least one week earlier this year, especially for soft fruit. Gardens in England are a lot further ahead as they have had some very hot weather, though not a lot of rain. Those that can irrigate their crops have a huge advantage.


The Delphiniums are stealing the show this month. The spikes are very big and the colours strong, but there was a fair bit of damage after the July thunderstorm. I bought a packet of seed about fifteen years ago from Blackmore and Langdon who specialize in Delphiniums and got about thirty plants. I still have six of the best left producing intense blue spikes every year.
My lilies are now coming into flower with Lilium candidum, the Madonna lily, coming into bloom first. I like this variety as the scented flower heads are held upright.
Annual Shirley poppies have started flowering, though the Californian poppy has been out for weeks and the Iceland poppies which flower in spring continue to bloom.


Late strawberries Florence and Symphony are at their best in mid to late July and my perpetual variety Malling Opal has a terrific flavour, but it is not producing any runners to keep the stock going. Black and red currants and saskatoons are a week ahead of last year with huge crops. There is too much to eat, freeze, make jam and compote, so I have started to use them for wine making. I look forward to trying out my Saskatoon wine.
I have also started a batch of Aronia (Chokeberry) wine. Interesting times lie ahead.
Saskatoon netting is now in place to protect the crop from birds, much to the severe annoyance of my local blackbird, who really gave me a piece of his mind, but soon realized that no amount of charging at the net would work. I’ll leave him the late berries after I pick the crop as there is plenty for all of us. My cherry tree is now recovering from the blackfly infestation, so I hope it will push out some fresh young shoots.
Outdoor grape Brant has recovered from the gales and is putting out shoots ten foot long. There is an excellent crop of young grapes, but to encourage the plant to put its energy into the fruit, the long shoots need removing by cutting back to two leaves after every bunch.


Planting has continued with cauliflower and leeks getting transplanted, as well as pumpkins and courgettes now that all frost risk has gone. The latter two crops got a lot of garden compost added to the soil to increase fertility and retain moisture.
A row of early salads under low polythene tunnels have now all been used, so the space has been used for a late sowing of carrots, hoping that they will miss the attention of the carrot fly.
Harvesting continues with early cauliflower, lettuce, radish, spring onions, baby beetroot, swiss chard and golden ball turnips.
Brassicas have not had a good start this year. They were all netted against pigeons, but caterpillars have been a constant nuisance, and clubroot has been a major problem in strong summer sunshine as there was not enough roots left to take in moisture. Rotation is the only solution, as chemicals are no longer available, but as I grow wallflower and radish and sow green manures with mustard, it is hard to keep a strict rotation. Clubroot spores can remain in the soil for up to twelve years.

House plants

Spare Busy Lizzies left over from the summer bedding make excellent house plants but need good compost and regular watering and feeding. Another short lived, but good house plant is our cactus, Chamaecereus sylvestrii. It gets ignored for most of the year, but as long as it gets left in a sunny window sill, with a wee bit of watering every second month or so it will cover itself in flowers in early summer. At that time give it a bit more water and a wee feed.


Friday, 15 July 2011

Summer Flowering Shrubs


There is a flowering shrub for every month of the year, and in every size from ground cover like the Rock Roses, Helianthemum to those  reaching small tree size, like the Eucryphia. Many are scented like the Philadelphus and others invaluable for climbing up trellis, fences, walls and old tree trunks such as climbing roses and honeysuckle.
The garden is enjoyed all year round and as spring flowers are usually plentiful, it is a good idea to make sure there is still room for those summer flowering shrubs.
The larger ones can provide screening and shelter around perimeters and patios. Some, such as Philadelphus, make excellent lawn specimens with the added advantage of a rich exotic perfume.

The Dundee Parks were always a brilliant place to learn all about shrubs as there wasn’t many that we didn’t grow. The nursery at Camperdown park was where we learnt how to propagate and grow them, and then in numerous other parks and outdoor landscapes we were taught how to prepare the ground, planting, spacing and after care.
However, forty odd years ago, shrub beds may have covered vast areas of park and open space land, but their function was more for weed control and easy maintenance, and to provide the gardeners with a job in winter when work was scarce. All shrubs, no matter what type, got a winter haircut at chest height. You soon became very competent at cutting cubes and balls, but pruning to induce flowering was a no go area. We have now moved on.
The design of planted areas and the selection of plants is now in the hands of our landscape architects who endeavour to select the most suitable plants for each situation and allow them to grow to their natural size. The planted areas must be functional but also attractive.
In our own gardens we must check on the ultimate size of a shrub at the selection stage so it does not outgrow its allotted space. That is a lot easier to say than practise since there are so many “must have” plants, but our garden size is limited.

Large shrubs

Eucryphia is probably a small columnar tree, but can be a shrub size for many years.
It is very reliable with a mass of white flowers in mid summer.
Buddleia is another large shrub, but is pruned to six inches from the ground every winter. It can easily grow six to eight feet in one summer depending on weather and produces a large flower spike in a range of colours, though my favourite was always the dark purple Black Knight.
For wild life lovers, it really does earn its common name of the Butterfly Bush.
Philadelphus has single or double white scented flowers in mid summer and will grow quite large. Give it plenty of room, and very little pruning and enjoy its perfume.
Escallonia, weigela and deutzia are all medium sized shrubs with white or pink to deep purple flowers. Escallonias are evergreen.
Shrub roses come in all sizes, and colours and very many are highly scented. They like deep fertile clay soils.

Low and ground cover shrubs

Hypericum, Spiraea, Choisya, Senecio and Potentilla are all very hardy and easy to grow. Hypericum Hidcote will grow up to four foot, but Hypericum calycinum, the Rose of Sharon at one foot in height is a very useful ground cover plant. However keep a look out for leaf rust.
Cistus has beautiful white to deep pink very delicate looking flowers, but needs a poor dry soil. It did not like our hard winter. Many of my Cistus were severely cut back by the cold last winter.
Fuchsia Mrs Popple is normally quite tough, but did get cut back by our winter weather.
It normally grows up to five feet tall, but at this moment in time, mine are rapidly recovering to two feet and will just keep growing hopefully. The first flowers are now out.
Lavender is almost a must for every garden, whether grown as a culinary herb, or just to enjoy its blue flowers in mid summer. The blue gray foliage has a gorgeous scent and the plant is perfect for edging borders or for a dry spot with poor soil. Senecio is also perfect for a sandy seaside garden.
Helianthemums and summer flowering heathers are more ground cover plants for the front of borders and both will smother weeds once they get established. My favourite heather is Calluna H.E.Beale with bright pink flower spikes in late summer.


There is always room for a few climbers in every garden, but which ones do you choose.
Solanum crispum has potato like flowers and can be very vigorous. It is very attractive in flower, but it produces berries that are highly poisonous.
Eccremocarpus scaber is an evergreen with orange tubular flowers. It can be difficult to get established, but then quite reliable.
Clematis and Honeysuckle need something to clamber through, both coming in many colours, but the honeysuckle has an outstanding perfume.
Climbing roses also come in numerous colours, heights and scents, but will need a support to be tied into.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Camperdown Park


Dundee folk have always loved Camperdown Park. It has such a wide variety of interests for people of all ages for leisure, play, gardening and numerous events are held regularly.
You can play golf, tennis, go for a long woodland walk around the park and over the road into Templeton woods then onto Clatto reservoir. Young children have a huge play area with boating pond and a zoo that keeps getting bigger, and for those who love an outdoor career the Council employs gardeners, nurserymen, greenkeepers, gamekeepers and foresters to look after this huge country park.


A few hundred years ago it was quite fashionable for one country to expand into another through invasion. The British developed the Commonwealth countries and the French had a go with the Napoleonic wars. The Dutch and French began to amass a navy and made the British a bit uneasy that we could become invaded. However we had a very experienced navy involved in maritime activities worldwide, and to maintain control of the seas around our island.
Adam Duncan was born in the High Street in Dundee in 1731, educated at Dundee High School, (a grammar school then), and joined the navy at fifteen years old. He was involved in numerous sea battles all over the world and quickly rose up the ranks becoming first lord of the Admiralty.
He set sail for the waters off Holland with a small fleet of 16 ships. The Dutch fleet under Admiral de Winter was amassing a continental army to invade Britain. Admiral Adam Duncan engaged their fleet just off the Dutch coast at Kamperduin on 11th October 1797. Instead of using the normal naval battle tactics of each ship taking on its opposite opponent in a battle line, he sailed straight into and through their line assisted by bad weather creating poor visibility. The Dutch fleet could no longer flee back to the safety of their harbour as Duncan’s ships blocked their passage, and blew a lot of them out of the water. The battle was won in just under three hours.
His success and bravery were recognised with an annual pension of £3000 and a title of Viscount Camperdown, with lands at Camperdown, Templeton and Clatto.
Admiral Duncan’s son Robert built Camperdown house in 1828, though it took four years to build. He also planted up the woodlands adding numerous unusual specimen trees to the collection.
Several generations of the family lived there till 1937 and after the contents were sold off in an auction in 1941 the Dundee Corporation bought the house and estate in 1946.


The management of the Camperdown estate was put in the hands of the Parks Department who over time developed it into a place where Dundee residents can go for their leisure and recreation.
Fifty years ago the development work was going ahead at full speed and Dundee’s numerous apprentices all played a part. Massive mature trees had to be removed during the creation of the golf course fairways, some so big that the roots had to be blasted out of the ground with gelignite. Woodland trees were chopped down to create the woodland walk around the perimeter.
The zoo started off beside the big house with a few ducks and goats managed by one gamekeeper, and the land where the present zoo exists was a nursery with fields growing potatoes, cabbage and Swedes to feed the animals in the expanding zoo. The gamepeeper got quite alarmed when he heard there was talk of acquiring a bear and a couple of lions. The perimeter six foot chain link fence might not be strong enough to keep them in and they might not be too happy with a diet of Swedes and winter cabbage.
The walled in nursery lost its growing fields and a new zoo was built complete with bear but without those lions. The zoo has now been revamped again with modern facilities.
The golf course has always been popular with fantastic views over the Tay between drifts of mature woodland, and Children’s leisure has been addressed with a huge award winning play area, and boating pond.
Woodland walks now take in Templeton woods and Clatto reservoir. There is an excellent mature pinetum to the west of the mansion and to the east there are many mature specimens of exotic trees including cedars, giant redwoods, sweet chestnut, weeping ash and now the original specimen of the weeping Camperdown elm is protected with its own enclosure.


Dundee Parks dept grows its own trees, shrubs, roses, bedding plants and flowering plants for civic decoration at the glasshouses and nursery in Camperdown Park. This is an excellent training ground for young gardeners keen to learn propagation and how to grow and use garden plants.


The public have really taken to Camperdown Park. It is absolutely mobbed at Easter and during the annual Flower and Food Festival the first week in September, (this year it is from Friday 2nd September to Sunday 4th September).
Other events from car rallies, pipe bands to half marathons are held throughout the year.